By Oxfam East Africa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
May 16, 2018; The Guardian

Mark Goldring, who has been CEO of Oxfam for the last five years, has announced his departure from the organization, acknowledging its past failings. Specifically, he was talking about the allegations that in 2011, Oxfam workers exploited women made vulnerable by the earthquake in Haiti by using them as prostitutes. Allegations of other instances of abuse and coverups have followed.

Goldring and the board said that the situation presented him with the “test of a lifetime” and a set of potential consequences that were larger than just Oxfam.

“The reputation of the sector, the reputation of aid, the reputation of the 0.7% commitment, all of those I think have been pulled into the mix,” he said to MPs earlier this year.

Deputy chief executive Penny Lawrence resigned in February, and Goldring resisted calls for his resignation at the time, saying he would not step down unless Oxfam’s board lost faith in his leadership. But he also commented at the time that the public’s outrage over the scandal was disproportionate because Oxfam had not “murdered babies in their cots.” That and his argument that outraged critics were “gunning for the organization” in holding it to account were not a good foundation on which to affirmatively transform the culture of the massive aid organization.

This is an era in which language betrays ever more obviously the assumptions of those speaking and in this case the statements of this CEO did not indicate an understanding of the moment or of what is needed in terms of leadership to change an embedded culture. —Ruth McCambridge